The Buffalo Bills will have a new leading rusher in 2023. Last year’s starter was Devin Singletary, who accounted for 215 total touches and a team-high 819 rushing yards. Singletary signed with the Houston Texans in free agency earlier this offseason. There are a plethora of in-house candidates to replace Singletary, but sophomore running back James Cook represents the best choice.
Singletary’s departure means that nearly 60% of Buffalo’s backfield’s touches from last season are now up for grabs. Cook impressed as a first-year rusher despite seeing just 30% of the workload. Cook rushed for 507 yards and two touchdowns on 89 carries as an immediate contributor—5.7 yards per carry. A dual-threat playmaker, Cook added 21 receptions for 180 receiving yards and a touchdown to his offensive totals. An elusive threat, Cook forced 19 missed tackles while averaging 3.02 yards after contact per attempt, via Pro Football Focus. Extrapolating these numbers to a larger workload indicates Cook is capable of serving as Buffalo’s No. 1 running back.
Cook is the favorite due to his second-round status and rookie performance, but there are other candidates that will be prepared to impress if Cook fails to place a stranglehold on the job. The most intriguing backup plan is Damien Harris, an ex-New England Patriot that Bills general manager Brandon Beane signed to a one-year contract worth $1.7 million.
Recurring injuries limited Harris to 462 yards last season. Harris is a bigger-bodied bellcow with multiple 20-carry showings under his belt, something Cook failed to achieve as a rookie. In 2021, a healthy Harris rushed for 929 yards as a Patriot. Cook will be looking over his shoulder if Harris recaptures his previous form.
Latavius Murray and Nyheim Hines are also on the roster. The 33-year-old Murray is likely viewed as insurance for Harris as a like-for-like between-the-tackles runner. The aging Murray continues to delay the inevitable after rushing for an impressive 760 yards last season. Murray averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 13 total appearances with the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos last season. The 5-foot-8 Hines won’t lead the Bills in touches, but he’ll eat into the total share as an exciting change-of-pace scat back.
There were signs of Cook’s increasing influence as his rookie campaign progressed forward. The former Georgia standout enjoyed an 86-yard showing against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. Cook later put forth a season-high 99-yard, one-touchdown rushing performance in a dominant Week 17 victory over the Chicago Bears. Cook averaged a personal-best 9.0 yards per carry against the Bears’ non-existent run defense. Bills head coach Sean McDermott rewarded Cook with more responsibility as a result. Cook played 41% or more of the Bills’ offensive snaps in three of four contests ranging from Week 13 to 16. In Buffalo’s Week 18 regular-season finale, Cook played a year-high 56% of Buffalo’s offensive snaps.
Perhaps it was an audition for Cook. Beane was aware of Singletary’s impending departure.
Cook must hold off Harris, and potentially Murray, for Buffalo’s lead backfield role. The sky’s the limit for Cook, who clearly possesses the most potential among Buffalo’s options. Additional consistency is required though, as Cook must respond positively to a starting role for the first time in his career (he never started at Georgia either). Cook possesses the tools necessary to develop into an every-week playmaker.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023